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Saturday, November 13, 2010

G20 Conference, An Embarrassment For President Obama

Myanmar Junta Frees Dissident Daw Aung San Suu Kyi -

Address by Aung San Suu Kyi at the NGO Forum o...Image via WikipediaMyanmar Junta Frees Dissident Daw Aung San Suu Kyi -
YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, was freed from house arrest on Saturday, setting her on the path to a possible new confrontation with the generals who had kept her out of the public eye for 15 of the past 21 years.
As she stepped out of the lakeside compound where she had been confined for the last seven and a half years in her latest period of house arrest, she was greeted by thousands of jubilant supporters, some of them in tears. Waving and smiling, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate could barely be heard over the cheering and chanting.
“We haven’t seen each other for so long, I have so much to tell you,” she said, immediately re-establishing the bond that has made her such a challenge to the military she confronts.
Her release, just five days after an election that recast the structure of military rule in Myanmar, suggested that the generals who rule the country were confident of their position and ready to face down the devotion she still commands both among her countrymen and among Western nations.
But the election itself, which drew accusations of fraud from almost all opposition parties, opened a new area of discontent that her lawyers said she planned to exploit by joining their challenge to the legitimacy of the election.
The government made no immediate statement regarding her release, but the police removed barricades from around her villa and allowed crowds to flood into the street. She said she would make a public address on Sunday.
The scene at the gates of her compound suggested that her popularity was undiminished. "She is our mother, she is our mother!” cried a woman in the crowd.
It was the kind of outpouring she had experienced twice before on earlier releases from house arrest, and both times she was detained again after testing the limits of her freedom.

House Democrats reach deal on leadership - John Bresnahan and Richard E. Cohen -

House Democrats reach deal on leadership - John Bresnahan and Richard E. Cohen -
House Democrats have reached a deal to keep both Reps. Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn in the leadership, with Hoyer (D-Md.) serving as minority whip and Clyburn (D-S.C) taking a new, as-yet-still-undefined number three position.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calf.) who is seeking the minority leader's job in the next Congress, reached an agreement with Clyburn on late Friday night, and Democratic leaders quickly announced the deal.
Clyburn's title and responsibilities were not specified in the annoucement from Pelosi's office, and Democratic leadership aides scrambled to explain the deal to reporters.
The agreement ends a race between Hoyer and Clyburn for minority whip while also leaving Rep. John Larson (Conn.) as Democratic Caucus chairman, the number four leadership position.
"Over the past four years, Congressman Clyburn’s effective leadership in the Whip’s Office was crucial to our passage of historic legislation on jobs, health care, veterans and Wall Street reform on behalf of the American people," Pelosi said in a statement. "Without Jim Clyburn’s determination, we would not have expanded college opportunities for millions of students, improved community health centers, or promoted jobs through investments in infrastructure, including rural broadband."
Pelosi can now move into Wednesday's caucus vote with no major leadership fights on the her hand, although there is still significant unrest over her decision to stay on as minority leader despite the Democratic defeat in the Nov. 2 midterms.

Friday, November 12, 2010

George Bush Book 'Decision Points' Lifted Passages From Advisers' Books

George Bush Book 'Decision Points' Lifted Passages From Advisers' Books

When Crown Publishing inked a deal with George W. Bush for his memoirs, the publisher knew it wasn't getting Faulkner. But the book, at least, promises "gripping, never-before-heard detail" about the former president's key decisions, offering to bring readers "aboard Air Force One on 9/11, in the hours after America's most devastating attack since Pearl Harbor; at the head of the table in the Situation Room in the moments before launching the war in Iraq," and other undisclosed and weighty locations.

Crown also got a mash-up of worn-out anecdotes from previously published memoirs written by his subordinates, from which Bush lifts quotes word for word, passing them off as his own recollections. He took equal license in lifting from nonfiction books about his presidency or newspaper or magazine articles from the time. Far from shedding light on how the president approached the crucial "decision points" of his presidency, the clip jobs illuminate something shallower and less surprising about Bush's character: He's too lazy to write his own memoir.

Bush, on his book tour, makes much of the fact that he largely wrote the book himself, guffawing that critics who suspected he didn't know how to read are now getting a comeuppance. Not only does Bush know how to read, it turns out, he knows how to Google, too. Or his assistant does. Bush notes in his acknowledgments that "[m]uch of the research for this book was conducted by the brilliant and tireless Peter Rough. Peter spent the past 18 months digging through archives, searching the internet[s], and sifting through reams of paper." Bush also collaborated on the book with his former speechwriter, Christopher Michel.

Many of Bush's literary misdemeanors exemplify pedestrian sloth, but others are higher crimes against the craft of memoir. In one prime instance, Bush relates a poignant meeting between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a Tajik warlord on Karzai's Inauguration Day. It's the kind of scene that offers a glimpse of a hopeful future for the beleaguered nation. Witnessing such an exchange could color a president's outlook, could explain perhaps Bush's more optimistic outlook and give insight into his future decisions. Except Bush didn't witness it. Because he wasn't at Karzai's inauguration.

His absence doesn't stop Bush from relating this anecdote: "When Karzai arrived in Kabul for his inauguration on December 22 - 102 days after 9/11 - several Northern Alliance leaders and their bodyguards greeted him at an airport. As Karzai walked across the tarmac alone, a stunned Tajik warlord asked where all his men were. Karzai, responded, 'Why, General, you are my men. All of you who are Afghans are my men.'"

That meeting would sound familiar to Ahmend Rashid, author of "The Mess in Afghanistan", who wrote: "At the airport to receive [Karzai] was the warlord General Mohammad Fahim, a Tajik from the Panjshir Valley .... As the two men shook hands on the tarmac, Fahim looked confused. 'Where are your men?' he asked. Karzai turned to him in his disarmingly gentle manner of speaking. 'Why General," he replied, "you are my men--all of you are Afghans and are my men.'"

Bush's lifting of the anecdote, while disappointing on a literary level, does raise the intriguing possibility that Bush actually read Rashid's book. Doubtful. It was excerpted in the Googleable New York Review of Books. (Still, thinking of Bush browsing the NYRB's Website almost makes it worthwhile.)

In a separate case of scene fabrication, though, Bush writes of a comment made by his rival John McCain as if it was said to him directly. "The surge gave [McCain] a chance to create distance between us, but he didn't take it. He had been a longtime advocate of more troops in Iraq, and he supported the new strategy wholeheartedly. "I cannot guarantee success," he said, "But I can guarantee failure if we don't adopt this new strategy." A dramatic and untold coming-together of longtime rivals? Well, not so much. It comes straight from a Washington Post story. McCain was talking to reporters, not to Bush.

In most instances of Bush's literary swiping, he was at least present for the scene. But the point of a memoir is that it is the author's version of events. Bush's book is a collection of other people's versions of events. But that's not what Bush promises readers. "Decision Points is based primarily on my recollections. With help from researchers, I have confirmed my account with government documents, personal interviews, news reports, and other sources, some of which remain classified," he offers. Bush, in his memoir, confesses to authorizing waterboarding, which is a war crime, so the lifting of a few passages might seem like a minor infraction. But Bush's laziness undermines the historical value of the memoir. Bush "recollects" - in a more literal sense of the term - quotes by pulling his and others verbatim from other books, calling into question what he genuinely remembers from the time and casting doubt on any conclusions he draws about what his mindset was at the time.

In a final irony, Bush appears to draw heavily from several of Bob Woodward's books and also from Robert Draper's "Dead Certain". The Bush White House called the books' accuracy into question when they were initially published.

The similarities between the way Bush recollects his and other quotes may be a case of remarkable random chance or evidence that he and his deputies were in an almost supernatural sync. If so, he essentially shares a brain with General Tommy Franks.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Debt Commission Seeks Social Security Cuts and Tax Increases -

Debt Commission Seeks Social Security Cuts and Tax Increases -
WASHINGTON — The chairmen of President Obama’s bipartisan commission on reducing the national debt outlined a politically provocative and economically ambitious package of spending cuts and tax increases on Wednesday, igniting a debate that is likely to grip the country for years.
The plan calls for deep cuts in domestic and military spending, a gradual 15-cents-a-gallon increase in the federal gasoline tax, limiting or eliminating popular tax breaks in return for lower rates, and benefit cuts and an increased retirement age for Social Security.
Those changes and others, none of which would take effect before 2012 to avoid undermining the tepid economic recovery, would erase nearly $4 trillion from projected deficits through 2020, the proposal says, and stabilize the accumulated debt.
“It’s time to lay it out on the table and let the American people start to chew on it,” said Alan K. Simpson, the former Republican Senate leader who is one of the co-chairmen, along with Erskine B. Bowles, who was White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton.
Their outline will be the basis for negotiation within the commission, which has a Dec. 1 deadline for submitting a final plan. It represents a challenge to both parties: to Mr. Obama and the Democrats, to show in the wake of the midterm election that they are serious about their pledges to address long-term deficits, and to Republicans, who for the most part have ruled out consideration of tax increases even as they have promised new adherence to fiscal responsibility.
Liberal groups immediately condemned the plan when news of it broke, for its Social Security and Medicare changes and for the scope of the spending cuts. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, in a statement called it “simply unacceptable.”
The furor on the left was not matched — yet — by a similar outcry from the right to the draft’s proposed revenue increases, cuts to the military or other options.
The plan has many elements with the potential to draw intense political fire. It lays out options for overhauling the tax code that include limiting or eliminating the mortgage interest deduction, the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit. It envisions cutting Pentagon weapons programs and paring back almost all domestic programs.
The plan would reduce cost-of-living increases for all federal programs, including Social Security. It would reduce projected Social Security benefits to most retirees in later decades, though low-income people would get higher benefits. The retirement age for full benefits would be slowly raised to 69 from 67 by 2075, with a “hardship exemption” for people who physically cannot work past 62. And higher levels of income would be subject to payroll taxes.
But the plan would not count Social Security savings toward the overall deficit-reduction goal that Mr. Obama set for fiscal year 2015, reflecting the chairmen’s sensitivity to liberal critics who have complained that Social Security should be fixed only for its own sake, not to help balance the nation’s books.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bishop Eddie Longs Church Doesn't Back Him in His Lawsuits - BV Black Spin

Bishop Eddie Longs Church Doesn't Back Him in His Lawsuits - BV Black Spin

The New Birth Missionary Baptist Church finally got around to responding to the numerous lawsuits being filed against its pastor, Bishop Eddie Long. One might expect that the church would go out of its way to deny the allegations and to stand up for its pastor, but this does not appear to be the case.
Rather than issuing any form of denial whatsoever, the church took a peculiar middle ground, simply stating that it cannot confirm or deny that Bishop Eddie Long had a sexual relationship with any of the young men in the church.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Keith Olbermann To RETURN Tuesday, Phil Griffin Announces

Cropped headshot of Keith OlbermannImage via WikipediaKeith Olbermann To RETURN Tuesday, Phil Griffin Announces
Keith Olbermann will return to the air on Tuesday after being suspended without pay for two shows (this past Friday and the upcoming episode on Monday).
The host of MSNBC's "Countdown" was given an indefinite suspension last week after his boss, network president Phil Griffin, discovered that Olbermann had made political contributions without seeking prior approval, as per NBC News policy.
A network spokesman released the following via email:
From Phil Griffin, President of MSNBC:
After several days of deliberation and discussion, I have determined that suspending Keith through and including Monday night's program is an appropriate punishment for his violation of our policy. We look forward to having him back on the air Tuesday night.
Earlier on Sunday, Olbermann broke his silence via Twitter, telling his followers "Greetings From Exile!" and thanking people for their support.
Over the past few days, a number of public figures have rallied behind Olbermann, who gave a total of $7,200 to three Democrats running for federal office. Even reporters and conservative pundits defended the MSNBC host. CNN's Eliot Spitzer called the punishment "ridiculous." Another MSNBC host, Rachel Maddow, immediately called for his reinstatement and used the opportunity to illustrate that her network is "not a political operation" like Fox News.
News Corp., which owns Fox News, has made multiple million-dollar donations to conservative groups, and progressive watchdog Media Matters has identified more than 30 instances of Fox News employees or personalities supporting Republican causes.
Olbermann defended his actions on Friday, noting that "I did not privately or publicly encourage anyone else to donate to these campaigns nor to any others in this election or any previous ones, nor have I previously donated to any political campaign at any level."
As reported earlier on HuffPost:
Olbermann donated the maximum legal amount of $2,400 each to Reps. Raul Grijalva and Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, and to Kentucky Senate contender Jack Conway. All three were in tight races with their Republican counterparts. The MSNBC host made the donations on Oct. 28, the same day that Grijalva made an appearance on "Countdown."
Another MSNBC host, Joe Scarborough, made several thousand dollars in political contributions during the 2006 election -- prior to a change in company policy, which currently reads:
Anyone working for NBC News who takes part in civic or other outside activities may find that these activities jeopardize his or her standing as an impartial journalist because they may create the appearance of a conflict of interest. Such activities may include participation in or contributions to political campaigns or groups that espouse controversial positions. You should report any such potential conflicts in advance to, and obtain prior approval of, the President of NBC News or his designee.
Liberal groups had taken on Olbermann's suspension as a cause. An online petition calling for his reinstatement, run by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, had exceeded 300,000 signatures Sunday, and Michael Moore had tweeted his support. The committee's Adam Green said Griffin was repeatedly e-mailed updates on the petition drives.
"Progressives proved that when one of our own are targeted, we will have their backs," he said.
Left unanswered is the question of why Olbermann would do something he undoubtedly knew would be provocative, or whether he was trying to make a statement against NBC's policy. He did not immediately return an e-mail message seeking comment Sunday.
The incident raised questions about how long-standing rules designed to preserve the appearance of objectivity for news organizations fit at a time that cable news networks, most prominently Fox News Channel and MSNBC, have increased their popularity through prime-time programs that dispense with any notion of impartiality.
"What we've seen in the last five years is the rise of these personalities that eclipse the journalism that these organizations do," said Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute journalism think tank.
Many mainstream news organizations take these rules dead seriously. National Public Radio subjected itself to some teasing this fall when it issued a memo forbidding its personnel from attending comic Jon Stewart's rally in Washington last month, but NPR didn't want reporters seen at an event that some people could interpret as political, unless the reporters were covering it.
Olbermann's fans note that he's made no secret of his support for Democrats on his prime-time "Countdown" show. So why should he be suspended for putting his money where his mouth is?
His prime-time MSNBC colleague, Rachel Maddow, said on her show Friday night that Olbermann should be reinstated. Her bosses were told she'd be saying that before going on the air, however.
McBride said she wouldn't be surprised if some news organizations drop these rules in the next few years, or at least carve out exceptions for certain personalities. Fox News seems to have effectively done this. Prime-time host Sean Hannity made a $5,000 donation to Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann's PAC this summer; Fox says he's a conservative talk show host, not a journalist. Part-time commentators the network has hired like Karl Rove and Sarah Palin continue their political work while drawing pay from Fox.
"It's getting harder and harder to draw the lines in general," McBride said. "The public doesn't spend a lot of time differentiating between commentators and journalists."
Yet the principle of journalistic independence is more important now than ever, said Bob Steele, director of the Prindle Institute for Ethics at DePauw University in Indiana.
Prime-time opinion hosts are journalists as well as commentators, Steele said. They host news programs, make decisions on what stories to emphasize, what guests to bring on, and what questions are asked, he said.
"There's a huge difference between having a belief and becoming an activist," he said, "and when you contribute to a campaign with your money or your energy, you're an activist."
Donations to some Democratic candidates by a commentator who clearly supports Democrats may seem simple. But why these candidates in these states and not others? What if these candidates get involved in primaries?
In other words, it can get messy.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

GOP: We Owe It to People to Repeal Health Care - Face The Nation - CBS News

GOP: We Owe It to People to Repeal Health Care - Face The Nation - CBS News
(CBS) Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the Republicans "owe it to the American people" to try to repeal health care reform.
"This was a terrible bill," McConnell said on "Face the Nation" Sunday.
McConnel said the results of Election Day meant that "People who supported us - political independents - want it repealed and replaced with something else. I think we owe it to them to try," McConnell said.
Also on the program, House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., defended the sweeping health care legislation, likening the reform with other major initiatives, like the civil rights laws of the 1960s. "The fact of the matter is what we did with health care is to make that a fundamental right of every citizen."
Clyburn suggested that McConnell and the House Republicans who say they will repeal the bill as soon as they take over the Majority leadership in January reminded him of the South's efforts to repeal landmark civil rights legislation.
"I think that those people who are saying those things are really flying in the face of history," Clyburn said. "The Democrats lost [their] place in the South because of the Voting Rights Act of 1965," Clyburn recalled. "I remember [former Republican Senator] Strom Thurmond going back to Washington after 1968, saying, 'We are going to repeal the Voting Rights Act.'"
And, Clyburn so much as dared the Republicans to try.
"I would like to see which one of those Republicans would propose that we take away a person's family's right to have their child [who's] born with diabetes come off their insurance policies," Clyburn said.

Texas Considers Medicaid Withdrawal -

Texas Considers Medicaid Withdrawal -
Some Republican lawmakers — still reveling in Tuesday’s statewide election sweep — are proposing an unprecedented solution to the state’s estimated $25 billion budget shortfall: dropping out of the federal Medicaid program.
Far-right conservatives are offering that possibility in impassioned news conferences. Moderate Republicans are studying it behind closed doors. And the party’s advisers on health care policy say it is being discussed more seriously than ever, though they admit it may be as much a huge in-your-face to Washington as anything else.
“With Obamacare mandates coming down, we have a situation where we cannot reduce benefits or change eligibility” to cut costs, said State Representative Warren Chisum, Republican of Pampa, the veteran conservative lawmaker who recently entered the race for speaker of the House. “This system is bankrupting our state,” he said. “We need to get out of it. And with the budget shortfall we’re anticipating, we may have to act this year.”
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative research organization, estimates Texas could save $60 billion from 2013 to 2019 by opting out of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, dropping coverage for acute care but continuing to finance long-term care services. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which has 3.6 million children, people with disabilities and impoverished Texans enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP, will release its own study on the effect of ending the state’s participation in the federal match program at some point between now and January.
State Representative John M. Zerwas, Republican of Simonton, an anesthesiologist who wrote the bill authorizing the health commission’s Medicaid study, said early indications were that dropping out of the program would have a tremendous financial ripple effect. Mr. Zerwas said that he was not ready to discount the idea, but that he worried about who would carry the burden of care without Medicaid’s “financial mechanism.”
“Because of the substantial amount of matching money that comes from the federal government,” Mr. Zerwas said, “there’s an economic impact that comes from that. If we start to look at what that impact is, we have to consider whether it’s feasible to not participate.”